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27 October, 2012

REVIEW: The Walking Dead: Season 3 - Episode 2 "Sick”

My previous reviews for this series can be accessed by clicking the links below:

A number of plot points will inevitably be revealed in the course of these writings.  My intent is to review this program from the perspective of the Doomer / Prepper / Survivalist community, but, to do that effectively, some things have to be explained in greater detail than I might normally prefer in a review.  As a result, spoilers will follow.  You have been warned.

The third episode of the new season premieres tomorrow night, Sunday, 28 October.  Expect me to review it by, say, Tuesday the 30th or thereabouts.  You might have noticed that I've skipped a day or two in posting these past few reviews versus the bang-bang-bang, day-after-day approach I was following before.  This is because I'm finally caught-up, and so I purposely spread-out the last few.  Starting with episode 3 in a few days, these reviews will come only once per week after each episode, probably either on Tuesday or Wednesday (Thursday at the latest); in the end, it all depends on my Grad school schedule and which days are my "days of rest," so to speak.  My classes are in accelerated 8 week intervals, and I'm finishing one up right now.  After that, I get a week off before beginning the next 8 week course on 5 November.  Most of that isn't really important to you except that I'm saying I won't know which days of the week will be due dates for work and which days will be my "free" days just yet.

Anyway, to this week's installment...

Episode 2, aptly entitled "Sick," picks-up exactly where the previous episode left-off.  Rick has just amputated Hershel's leg with a hatchet on a dirty prison cafeteria floor in and effort to save his life after the older man was bitten by a Walker, which is usually followed by the onset of a terrible fever and, subsequently, death followed by zombification.  Only time will tell if the very decisive field-amputation will save Hershel or if he will die anyway from extreme blood loss and the infection I imagine is forthcoming.  I gotta say that his future looks a bit bleak to me.  They were decidedly *NOT* in a spot that appeared to be conducive to surgery.  The characters are faced with trying to keep his bleeding under control, even as they have also come face-to-face with yet another issue: there are a handful of surviving prisoners who have been hunkered-down inside the cafeteria/kitchen/pantry area for months, and they represent an unknown (and perhaps dangerous?) element with which Rick's group will now be forced to deal.

The first goal, however, is getting Hershel back to safety and so they use a table as a gurney upon which to get him back to the cell-block they currently call home.  Unfortunately, they are followed back by the convicts.  This creates an interesting parallel for those of us in the Doomer / Prepper / Survivalist community to consider.

Obviously, everything about these discussions refers to a long-term societal collapse TEOTWAWKI scenario; that's the nature of the world in which the show's fiction exists, and so it, therefore, colors our examination of the topic.  In that, one universal truth will always remain: even the most self-sufficient retreat homestead is not *COMPLETELY* self-sufficient.  There will always be a need to dispatch foraging parties to obtain those items we ourselves cannot grow or create ourselves.  For most of us, these are things like fuel, salt, etc.  The thing I'm getting at here is that, during such excursions, we need to be cognizant of the threat that we might inadvertently lead some dangerous element back to our retreat/hidey-hole.  I've said it before and I'll continue to say it; this show's premise of zombies rising from the dead to feed on people might be ludicrous, but we need to be looking at it as being allegorical of real-world dangers.

You and I will never encounter a real zombie, but we might be faced with worse.  At least zombies are stupid and can't shoot back at you.  I'd much rather face idiot zombies pouring out of Atlanta, for instance, than members of gangs like the Crips, Bloods, or 30 Deep that operate in that same city, or the Hell's Angels or Mongols Motorcycle Clubs out of California.  Those represent real threats that are barely held in check now.  If law and order went by the wayside, such organizations would quite simply represent something akin to what the armies of Genghis Khan represented in the ancient world: an overwhelming force that would move into whatever area it pleases, rape, murder, and pillage until they get bored, and then move on to their next victims.  The only way for folks like you and I to survive unscathed in such a world would be either by keeping a very low profile or situating ourselves in such a stronghold as to present them with a hardened target they'd rather not waste their time on when they could be fifty miles away raping and pillaging easier marks.  That may sound heartless, but, in such a situation, your responsibility will be to protect your family and those you have accepted under your care.  If you have the means to help others, you should always do so, but I doubt many of us have private armies at our disposal, and, make no mistake, 30 bikers carrying shotguns is an invading army, or at least what will pass for one WTSHTF.  Being that few of us possess the wealth necessary to build ourselves a castle (if I ever hit the lottery, I shall), we will have to settle for lying-low and remaining unnoticed by the ravaging hordes.

Back to the story.

As Hershel is looked-after by the others (especially Carol, whom he has been training as a sort of field-nurse so that she could assist him when Lori's baby comes), Rick goes to deal with the convicts who are by now being held outside the cell-block entrance by Daryl and T-Dog.  Before he goes, however, he orders Glenn to stay close to Hershel in case he dies, the implication being, of course, that it will be up to Glenn to put a deceased Hershel down if he reanimates as a Walker.  Rick asks if he will be able to do it with Maggie (Hershel's oldest daughter and Glenn's own love interest) there and offers to have him trade places with T-Dog; to his credit, though, Glenn accepts the potentially unhappy responsibility.

One thing that stuck in my craw regarding the scene where they are trying to figure-out how to get Hershel's bleeding stopped was something that was said about cauterizing the wound.  Glenn suggests building a fire, so that they can burn the wound closed, and Carol says no for two reasons:

1.) The shock could kill him, which is possible, I suppose, but he's already in shock and on the verge of bleeding to death anyway from having a chunk of his leg bitten out by a Walker and then having Rick hack said leg off with a hatchet, all within the past 5 minutes.  Also, he's unconscious, so I'm not sure it would even cause any further shock; and,

2.) Burning it closed wouldn't stop the arteries from bleeding internally anyway, which I think would only be true if you, very stupidly, only burned the frayed flesh from the cutting zone (which really ought to be debrided with a sharper, more precise instrument like a hunter's filleting knife while the old codger is still unconscious and won't feel it), and you somehow completely missed burning the exposed arteries themselves. It is my (perhaps misguided?) understanding that surgeons routinely clamp closed and burn the ends of veins and arteries to stop them from bleeding during real-life operations.

Someone with actual medical knowledge needs to comment on this and set me straight if I'm wrong, but I think Carol is mostly incorrect on both counts.  Further, I believe her assertions that they need to just "keep it dressed and let it heal on its own" would have killed Hershel if this had been an injury sustained in real-life.  Since when and on what planet does a simple wound dressing have the magic capability of stopping an arterial bleed?

Outside the cell-block, the five convicts (Axel, Big Tiny, Andrew, Oscar, and Tomas) are, to put it succinctly, a problem.  None of them have any clue as to the extent of the zombie apocalypse and ensuing societal collapse.  We learn that, when things started to beak down in what was believed to be a prison riot (more likely it was actually the zombie plague itself hitting the prison), one of the guards did right by them, locking them in the cafeteria area with an extra set of keys an a pistol.  And that is where they have been, locked-away for either 292 or 294 days (depending on which convict's tally you believe is accurate).  This little tidbit, by the way, is one of the few mentions we've had in the series that allow us to extrapolate approximately where we are in the overall apocalyptic timeline.  To put those numbers into perspective, that would mean if the zombie apocalypse portrayed on this show were to begin on 15 May, 2013 then this scene in the prison would be taking place on either 3 March or 5 March, 2014.

The convicts are hesitant to believe that there is no rescue coming, that the government has fallen, or that there is no way for them to call and check on their families.  Worse than that, though, is the fact that Tomas attempts to assert authority over the prison, calling it "his house" because they were there first and because the cell-block where our guys have settled was actually the same cell-block where he was housed as an inmate.  Rick shows a deference, once again, to proper OPSEC procedures; when Tomas asks how many people are in their group Rick refuses to be specific, saying only that they are "too many for [Tomas] to handle."  Our boy Rick seems to be getting this whole survivalist thing pretty down pat these days!

Tomas persists in trying to push Rick's group out of the prison, at one point offering to allow them to camp in the yard down by the water, to which Rick replies that they intend to use that field to plant crops (planning ahead!) and asserts that he and his group have rights to the cell-block they cleared by virtue of having been the one's to clear it and the entire yard of Walkers in the first place.  Things get pretty tense with threats of violence from both sides, before a compromise is reached: in return for half of the food that remains in the pantry (which is initially claimed to only be a little left, though that proves untrue), Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog agree to assist the convicts in clearing-out a cell-block of their own to settle into.  In the end, Rick adds that they have a deal, but if he sees them anywhere near any of his people, then there will be blood between them.  Even this early on, it's obvious that -- of the five convicts -- Tomas is going to be the real problem.

Back at Hershel's sickbed, Lori is a big help in taking care of him.  At one point she mentions the need for them to locate the prison infirmary to acquire antibiotics, painkillers, sterile gauze, and other supplies within earshot of Carl.  The boy will later go off and locate the infirmary alone, killing two Walkers in the process, and returning with a duffel bag full of the things they need.  Lori (being his mother) is grateful, but understandably aghast that he would go alone after seeing what happened to Hershel, who was with a whole group when he was injured.  In response, Carl reminds me why I had trouble with him last season as he mouths off to her, and is told that he shouldn't talk to her like that by Beth (upon whom he seems to have a crush).  Angry, he runs out of the room.  Lori has been a complete train-wreck as both a wife and a mother for 2 seasons already, but it's obvious now that the divisions in her marriage also extend to her relationship with her first-born as well.  The Grimes's are not a happy family.

As for Hershel's daughters, the youngest Beth seems almost foolishly optimistic that he will recover, even going so far as to preemptively cut-off the right pants leg from his clothes in anticipation of him being up-and-about; whereas, the oldest Maggie is more realistic about his chances.  She worries what will happen to him even if he does awake, being unable to even walk "when all [they] do is run."  She tries to prepare her little sister for the worst and even has a touching private conversation with her unconscious father, telling him that he doesn't have to keep fighting if he'd rather let go; that if he is worried about her and Beth, they and Glenn will look after each other, and she thanks him for all he has done for her.

In addition, there is a gnarly subplot where Carol, in anticipation of having to do the proverbial heavy-lifting when the baby comes now that Hershel in not at 100% capacity, enlists Glenn to help her kill a female Walker and drag it through the fence.  She mentions that Lori had a C-section when she gave birth to Carl and the odds are good that the same would be required with the new baby.  Hershel had experience in such things (I assume, when delivering foals, since he was actually a Vet before the zombie apocalypse), but she herself has none; therefore, she experiments on a Walker, practicing cutting into the abdomen and uterus so that she doesn't cut the baby when/if she has to perform a C-section on Lori.  To be quite honest, it's one of those little things that this show tosses in you face from time to time that sounds crazy... until you really think about it.  Then, suddenly, it makes perfect sense.  While she's practicing on her not-so-fresh cadaver in the yard, two things occur: first, we see that she is being watched by some unknown human entity outside the prison; and, secondly, Hershel stops breathing briefly, but is resuscitated by Lori, despite the dangers inherent in giving mouth-to-mouth to someone who could become a Walker at any moment.

Upon hearing the deal Rick has struck with the convicts, Lori worries about the dangers of living in such close proximity with them.  Rick asserts, unequivocally, that he is not giving up their new safe-haven, regardless.  Lori pushes Rick as to what their options are and he tells her, flat out, that it's either the deal he has worked-out or the convicts have to die.  To his surprise, she says that she supports whichever option he thinks is best; that, despite all the bad things between them, she wants him to know that she does not believe he has even done anything out of sheer malice, and that he should do whatever he must to protect their group with a clear conscience. 

Rick and Daryl then spend some time trying to give the convicts a crash course in Walker killing.  They explain that the revolver the convicts have in their possession must only be used if they find themselves with no other choice, due to the fact that noise attracts them and riles them up; and they have a particularly difficult time making them understand that the only way to take a Walker down is by going for the head/brain.  The convicts initially insists on using methods that more closely resemble prison riot tactics and shankings, even after being clearly instructed otherwise.  Eventually, they get the hang of it, but there are other more disturbing complications.  Despite his size, Big Tiny (the largest of the convicts) gets spooked by the Walkers and breaks formation, resulting in him getting scratched.  As they are, basically, telling him that he's probably screwed and are talking about isolating him, he is brutally beaten to death by Tomas right in front of everyone.

Here is another bit of a gripe I have with the practices of the folks on this show.  Okay, everybody is infected; we get it.  But, that doesn't change the fact that a bite or a scratch is known to cause fever and death.  To me, that knowledge ought to, at least, translate to some basic precautions being taken when it comes to bodily fluids.  Yet, in this episode alone, we see Tomas getting himself drenched in blood as he hammers away at Big Tiny; Lori and Carol sitting around with Hershel's blood drying all over their hands, even as they wait to see if he is going to develop a fever or if Rick's quick amputation saved him; and, Daryl is constantly holding crossbow bolts in his teeth (the same ones he regularly retrieves from the gooey skulls of dead Walkers).  I mean, c'mon folks.  Really?

Rick and company are, needless to say, troubled both by the ease and brutality with which Tomas just murdered a man he'd spent the past 10 months or so calling a comrade and with the wild look in his eyes when he did it.  This dude is obviously dangerous.  Rick makes it clear that if "he makes one move," he'll have to deal with him to which Daryl responds "just give me a signal."  Not surprisingly, Tomas does soon make a move.

In the prison laundry, they come across a locked room full of Walkers and Rick instructs Tomas to unlock only one of the double-doors, so that they can control how quickly the Walkers come through.  Instead, Tomas opens them both, causing a far more chaotic fight.  During the melee that ensues, he narrowly misses Rick with a swing that may or may not have been an accident (though it's clear that Rick doesn't buy that it is) and then shoves a Walker into Rick, who falls and lands with the Walker on top of him.  He is rescued and helped to his feet by Daryl and a look passes between the two men that is clearly the signal they discussed previously.  After the fight, there is a brief but tense standoff that culminates in Rick burying his machete in Tomas's skull.  Andrew, the smallest of the convicts and Tomas's closest supporter (and possibly his lover?) then attacks Rick in retaliation, but causes no damage and runs off with Rick in pursuit, as Daryl and T-Dog hold the last two in place with their weapons trained on them. 

Rick chases Andrew into a courtyard full of Walkers, then locks the door behind him, leaving him to a grisly fate.  This is definitely not the ineffectual Rick Grimes of days past, but that may prove to be both a boon as well as a problem in the months and years to come.  The Rick of days gone by was a good man, and I believe he still is a good man even now, but he has definitely been forged in the flame of the world in which they're all now stuck trying to survive and has come out the other side hardened.

In all truth, he needed hardening; in fact, I've said before that he needed to become a little more like Shane, and I still stand behind that claim.  His whiny, directionless, bickering crowd of hangers on were, not only annoying but also, destined for certain death until he put his foot down and said it was either his way or the highway.  Kudos to him for that.  There's a reason why, for instance, military units are not governed by consensus, and a big part of that is because, in situations where one wrong move can mean multiple deaths, there's rarely time to sit and debate issues or wonder if people are going to do as they're told.  Someone, quite simply, has to take command.  Add to that the fact that a vast majority of people are psychologically predisposed to be followers (even if they aren't conscious of it or if they don't like to admit it), who are far more productive when taking instructions from a higher authority, and you get a more successful situation with a single individual (or, at least, a small committee) in charge of things.  The danger, of course -- both to Rick and his people and to any of us who find ourselves in similarly harsh survival situations -- is that the appropriate toughening-up goes too far, making him (and us) brittle, cold, and unfeeling.  In such situations, keeping those for whom you're responsible safe is the paramount concern.  No other aspects of living are possible until survival is ensured, but why live if there is nothing to live for or if you're being forced to subsist beneath the boot heel of an authoritarian monster?  The trick, as with all things, is to find the middle-ground.  I don't think Rick is there yet, and I would wager that a major theme of this season will be his development as a character, struggling to find a way to be the tough leader everyone needs him to be without going too far.  Needless to say, I think that Rick is now far less interested in doing what's necessarily right, concentrating instead on keeping his core group safe, regardless of the cost to fellow survivors.

Returning to where Oscar and Axel (the last two living convicts) are being held on their knees, he must then decide their fates.  Both men claim they had no knowledge of the plot against Rick.  Axel blubbers a bit, saying that he was in for "liking [his] pharmaceuticals" and Oscar was a B&E, neither of them violent.  Oscar is tougher, on the other hand, refusing to beg for his life, and I believe earns some modicum of respect from Rick, T-Dog, and Daryl.  In the end, Rick spares them and honors the original deal for them to have their own cell-block, separate from his people, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see both of them eventually earn enough trust to become part of Rick's group.  Also, I see Rick's deciding ti spare them as a sign that he's still a good man.  If he believed for an instant that they posed a threat to his people, he'd have killed them both and been done with it, just to keep the threat out of his rear-view; instead, he recognized them for what they were and let them live.

When all is said and done, the guys return to the others in time for Hershel, having shown no signs of fever, to regain consciousness and take Rick's hand in a silent thank you for his quick decisive action to save the older man's life.  The jury is still out for me as to whether he'll fully recover.  That cafeteria floor was an awfully dirty place to perform an amputation, much less using an unsterilized hatchet meant for cutting wood.  I mean, infections are often still an issue even in First World hospital settings.  We shall see, though.  If nothing else, Rick saved him from the fever and certain death that accompanies the Walker plague, and they learned a valuable lesson regarding amputations being able to possibly save some others in the future.

Later, Lori tries to have a heart-to-heart with Rick about their marriage, but he doesn't have the words, except to tell her that he doesn't believe she is a bad mother and that everyone appreciates what she did, reviving Hershel.  He cannot look at her as he says these things, but does manage to place a hand on her shoulder, and, judging by her reaction, this is the first time he has touched her with anything resembling tenderness in a long time.

In the previews for the next episode (airing tomorrow night), we learn that we are going to be seeing Andrea and Michonne again (they were absent from this episode).  They look to be coming into contact with a community of survivors called Woodbury (a sign is briefly visible) who refer to them as "guests," yet disarm and question them.  Could someone from Woodbury be the person who was spying on Carol?  Perhaps most intriguing, we catch a brief glimpse of Merle Dixon (older brother of Daryl and absent since the rooftop in Atlanta in season 1), who has also apparently found his way to Woodbury.

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